Earth Shattering Miracles in The Mountains of Africa.
Updated: Apr 22, 2021
"Legacies Enduring Questions" Part 4
In part four of my series, "Legacies Enduring Questions" I want to ask a question which will split the readers into two camps. It is highly definitive in how most of us think and deeply affects the way we approach life.
We are talking about Legacy and how to build an enduring foundation and future for our families. Not all of you will agree with my approach but I am simply asking questions to get you to think and maybe be challenged to take another or new pathway forward. The question in this article is about how we create a legacy.
"Do you build a great future by identifying, repairing and avoiding your past mistakes or repeating and developing the successes and strengths of today?"
Here is a story, a true story and a story that deeply affected my philosophy of life and how I look at both the past and future. I hope you read it because it will be more than worth it.
I was drafted into the military of what was then Rhodesia immediately after high school in 1978. After basic training and a couple of brief assignments, I was posted to the Chaplain Corps. The chaplains performed weddings, funerals, and services; visited the wounded in hospital; and notified families when a soldier was wounded or killed.
Much of what I did in the Chaplain Corps was to ride shotgun for chaplains when they went to areas of active military conflict. One of the destinations I was required to accompany chaplains to was Tsanga Lodge. Tsanga was a rehabilitation center situated over seven thousand feet high in the Inyanga Mountains. The area looked like the highlands of Scotland with huge pines, foliage, small dams and rivers with names like Connemara; named after places in Scotland. Tsanga was run by Lt. Dick Paget, who owned the facility prior to the Rhodesian Bush War and ran an Outward Bound wilderness program.
Dick had no psychological/psychiatric training but worked miracles with the most desperate of wounded soldiers. Dick wrote a book about his Life experiences, Paget’s Progress: A Tale of High Adventure and Low Salaries. Dick partnered with his amazing wife Anne to work with devastated soldiers who were dropouts from the “approved” rehabilitation facilities. Most of these soldiers were severely depressed and had given up on life.
One morning I was advised I would be taking a chaplain to Tsanga Lodge. We first went to St. Giles Rehabilitation Hospital, where we picked up three young soldiers. One was a paraplegic, so we had to load his stretcher and wheelchair into the back of the Land Rover. He had been blown up when his vehicle went over a land mine, and he was paralyzed from the waist down. The next young soldier had a white phosphorus grenade explode in his hand. Most of one hand was blown off and he was completely blind. The last soldier had both his legs blown off below the knee after standing on an anti-personnel mine.
After loading everyone into the Land Rover we began the trip up to the mountains. The trip was about three hours on paved roads and the last two on dirt roads through some beautiful mountain scenery.
All three soldiers were quiet and sullen for most of the trip. We passed Troutbeck Inn, a beautiful mountain lodge with a golf course and lakes with swans. Since the war had started, the hotel was virtually empty.
Tsanga Lodge was a mile further on. On arriving, Lt. Paget asked us to head on back to Troutbeck Inn to have a drink and socialize. We spent some time in the pub where Lt. Paget talked to the soldiers about what he expected and what they should expect at Tsanga.
After about an hour we went out to the Land Rover and I started to help the paraplegic soldier into the back. Lt. Paget told me to stop. He then advised the three soldiers that they already knew their way to Tsanga Lodge and would need to make their way back by themselves. It wasn’t far, but to make them walk back was just not fair.
The chaplain wasn’t sure what to do and tried to complain. Lt. Paget was the commanding officer, so that was that. It was hard to imagine these three soldiers—one blind, another in a wheelchair, and one with two prosthetics—walking up the rocky road during the late afternoon in an area known to have combatants. Was this comedy or tragedy?
I heard from the chaplain the next morning, and he was still incensed and talking about what he intended to do when he returned to headquarters. The following day I was having breakfast when I was asked to accompany the chaplain and Lt. Paget to look in on two of the soldiers. The soldier who had lost his legs was integrating well, but the other two had not been seen since going to their rooms after arriving the first evening.
I believed we would be looking in on the soldiers and offering some encouragement to get them participating in the life of the facility. I was wrong. The first room we went into was that of the paraplegic. Lt. Paget started civilly but soon began a verbal barrage that I found hard to comprehend. The soldier had soiled himself in his bed, was very sullen and lying there in his mess. Lt. Paget told him that he was stinking up the room resulting in his roommate not wanting to sleep in the stench.
He advised the young soldier to either clean his mess up, clean himself up, get out of his room, and start participating in the program or take the road he had walked on from Troutbeck Inn and lose himself in the wilderness. So much for words of consolation and solace.
The chaplain was dumbfounded and attempted to interject. He was ordered by Lt. Paget to keep his words to himself. He was told if he wished to pray with the soldier he could do so at a later time. We had another patient to see.
We moved on to the next soldier’s room. He was crouched on the floor, rocking himself in the corner of his room. He received the same treatment. He was told if he didn’t stop, he would be asked to join the paraplegic for a trip down the road. Either get up and get moving or get the hell out of Tsanga Lodge.
The chaplain made his objections and anger known. He told Lt. Paget that he would be reporting his abuse and treatment of the soldiers when we returned to army headquarters. The chaplain promised there would be changes and apologies from Lt. Paget and swore never to bring any other soldier to Tsanga Lodge. We left within a day or so and returned to the chaplains’ HQ.
I would returned to Tsanga about six months later with another chaplain who was going to perform Christmas services. December is the middle of summer in the southern hemisphere.
The same day I arrived, I went down to the swimming pool to cool off after the long, dusty drive. I saw a number of soldiers in and around the pool, including the paraplegic soldier we had brought up a few months earlier. He was in an inner tube, splashing water in a playful fight with some other soldiers. I was amazed at the difference.
Later that day I saw the blind solder seated on a horse being pulled in tow by another soldier. They had been out for a ride. He was laughing, talking away and having a great time. I never saw the other soldier but understood he chose to returned to his military unit and was doing well.
One evening I was in the dinner area with the chaplain. He was sitting with Lt. Paget and talking about the "miracles" that took place in the lives of the soldiers who came to Tsanga. He recounted the horror stories he had been told about Lt. Paget and how he was asked to check up on the soldiers who had been brought up earlier in the year.
Lt. Paget began talking about his approach with these rehab dropouts. He began by saying that when they arrived, he was open and honest with each one of them. He told them that reality was just that, reality. There was nothing he could change about what had happened to them. He would also no longer entertain any further talk of rehabilitation, nor would he commiserate about their losses and seek to understand their plights.
Did he feel sorry for them? Without a doubt! What was, was! What they had lost, they had lost, and neither he nor the doctors nor God was going to give them new legs, arms, eyes, or anything else.
His philosophy was to focus on what they did possess. What they had, they had! It was his job to help them know what capacities they had and then to find ways for them to engage and live life using what they had the capacity to do.
His job was to analyze asset and not deficit. That concept stuck with me. The "Analysis of Asset!" What a concept. With his simple philosophy, Lt. Paget had worked miracles, or what many doctors and mental health professionals called miracles. Each of these soldiers had his deficits; what he had lost, what he would never do again, and so on. They had been identified, analyzed, and confirmed with medical language: blind, paraplegic, amputee, deaf, emasculated, and so on.
Lt. Paget’s miracle working is basically the same as what is taught and promoted by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton in their groundbreaking book, "Now Discover Your Strengths". Their mission is to change the way corporate America and the world of business do business. The philosophy practiced in the rural mountains of Africa to rebuild shattered lives is the same used to build greater productivity and strong, vibrant businesses in the concrete jungles of the world’s cities.
There is a pervasive belief that the pathway to a successful future is guided by determining what is wrong or weak and then fixing those weaknesses. “Mental health” begins with a diagnosis of “mental illness” and then uses “therapy” to treat people. Therapists say they want to know why people are depressed in order to help them become happy.
The process has been inverted. This focus on finding faults and fixing them as the pathway to success is misguided. The way to find success is to study success, health, optimal functioning, and what works. It is to ask why and where people excel. Happiness, health, and success have their own patterns, elements, and DNA. If we want to learn or discover why a people, a corporation or system is performing, we don’t do that by studying failing businesses. If we want to discover how to help students graduate, we need to study those students who are graduating and succeeding.
This philosophy guided my life as it continues to do today. I wrote a book, The DNA Code: The Forensics of Purpose, Passion and Performance and went on to create corporate, educational, personal and juvenile justice diversion programs based on it. I even created a software www.mylifescene.com that focused on helping people analyze their assets. I am ever grateful for those trips to Tsanga Lodge and for Lt. Dick Paget.
"But this one thing I set my life on course to do; to forget what is behind me and to give everything I have to reach the future God has for me." Paul Philippians 3 vs 13b
Miracles happen everywhere when you see people for who they are and not what they are not? The way we see the future and how we can forge a legacy that reflects who we are and what we value is determined by which way we look. The past or the future? Where are you looking? How can you change the way you look at life?
I would love to talk with you about your life. I would love to see how your current perspective on life can change. I would love to see a miracle in your life.
I encourage you to call me. Let's connect. Mark Demos (425) 492-4300
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